Glen Mazzara Talks Walking Dead, Pushing Limits, and the Art of the Midseason Finale

Walking Dead season 3Showrunner Glen Mazzara is merciful — OK, maybe not to the characters on The Walking Dead, but to fans. His belief is that midseason finales should be managed with care, not leaving too much hanging for too long. “Sometimes I worry about cliffhangers, that they can be frustrating to the audience,” he said.

Which isn’t to say that Mazzara won’t put beloved characters in peril — he’s done it plenty this season, the show’s third, and delivered monster ratings in the process (the midseason finale attracted 15.2 million viewers earlier this month).

We talked with Mazzara shortly before news broke that this season, which resumes in February, will be his last as showrunner and executive producer for The Walking Dead. Be warned, spoilers abound in this interview. Don’t listen or read further until you’re caught up.

Some highlights, including Mazzara’s take on finales, humanity in a zombified world, the freedom the setting provides, and how far he’ll push characters:

Read More

Exclusive Guest Post: Five Noir Films I Love, and Why I Hate to Go to the Movies

ZandriVincent Zandri is the bestselling author of Murder by Moonlight (currently the subject of a book trailer contest at Amazon Studios). Zandri offers this dispatch from the intersection of movies and noir:

I don’t go to the movies.

Wait, scratch that … I love the movies. Or, films, I should say. It’s just that you’re going to be hard pressed to find me spending a Saturday night at the local mall, buying over-priced popcorn and sitting through the latest Adam Sandler flick while some high schoolers are chatting it up behind me and the seven-feet-six basketball player seated in front of me blocks the entire screen.

OK, I know, going to the movies isn’t necessarily for the guys, but more for the gals. And it’s what you do for someone you love who is constantly doing things for you that she doesn’t necessarily enjoy doing. Like bellying up to a bar for instance.

But while we’re on the subject, I have a serious confession to make. Until recently, I’ve been single for a long time, dating here and there, enjoying some short-lived relationships, living the George Clooney life more or less, only without the bucks or the Hollywood good looks. In any case, I always find myself telling my date, or prospective date, how much I love to go to the movies. It works like a charm, every time. All I have to do is ask a girl if she’d like to go to a movie this Friday night and dinner afterwards and her eyes will light up and boom, I’m in.

So what I do after that is wait a few days and then I’ll sort of suggest we save the movie for another time since I can only get an early dinner reservation at this really cool restaurant. Usually she agrees and from that point on, I keep promising a movie, but it usually never happens. And that’s usually when the relationship fizzles out … go figure.

Problem is, in my business, I can watch movies all the time, anytime, via Netflix or Amazon Instant Video or even YouTube. In fact, I probably watch and re-watch half a dozen movies per week. Watching movies and reading books are essential as a fiction writer. Like a musician listening to other bands, watching movies not only sparks my creativity but it also makes me a more enthusiastic writer. I find myself watching not only as a professional, but as a fan.

The  movies I like to watch and, as I’ve already pointed out, re-watch, almost always fall into the noir or hard-boiled categories. The top-5 noir films I simply cannot stay away from are as follows:

1.      Chinatown: Hands down one of the best hard-boiled, wise-guy detective flicks ever made. The Robert Towne script is said to be perfect but the performances are even better with Jack Nicholson playing the sarcastic gumshoe and Faye Dunaway the femme fatale. Look for the scene in which Jack slaps Faye around while trying to figure out if the kid upstairs is her sister or daughter. “My sister, my daughter, my sister…!!!” Classic.

Read More

Exclusive Q and A: “Twilight” Screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg on Box Office, and Bella

Melissa Rosenberg at Whistler

Amazon Studios was a proud sponsor of Variety’s Whistler Film Festival events honoring Melissa Rosenberg and other notable screenwriters.

Melissa Rosenberg describes the opportunity to work on the Twilight movie series as something that “just landed in my lap,” but the truth is that it was her notable work on franchise-founding Step Up movie (not to mention series like Dexter, and The O.C.) that put her into position to be celebrated as a “Billion Dollar Screenwriter.”

We had a chance to ask Rosenberg a few questions:

Hollywonk: Bella is a character who inspires a great deal of emotion — positive and negative. Does that latter surprise you? Do you consider her story one of empowerment?

Melissa Rosenberg: Any character worth their salt inspires strong emotions. Bella’s character in the movies is different from book. My intention was to empower her over the course of the five movies. 

Hollywonk: What do you hope Hollywood learns from the success of the Twilight franchise?

That female audiences can drive box office.

Hollywonk: Fill in the blank: Women in Hollywood should have more __________.

Rosenberg: Women in Hollywood should have more _CEO jobs____.

See more Hollywonk conversations with Variety’s Screenwriters to Watch.

Exclusive Q and A: 2012 “Screenwriters to Watch” on Notes, Fantasy Casting, and More

Variety's 2012 Screenwriters to Watch

Variety’s 2012 Screenwriters to Watch (from left, Scott Rothman, Reid Carolin, Ted Melfi, Patrick Aison and Kate Dippold) arrive at the red carpet for Amazon Studios-sponsored events at the Whistler Film Festival on Dec. 1.

Five up-and-coming screenwriters honored by Variety last weekend took some time to answer questions from Amazon Studios, proud sponsor of the 2012 Screenwriters to Watch festivities:

Hollywonk: What’s the best note you ever received? The worst? What did you do with it?

Katie Dippold (writer of the upcoming film The Heat, starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy): Parks and Rec taught me to worry about the story first and the jokes second.  You can always punch up an episode but if the story is weak then you’re in trouble.   It was a lot easier once I started doing that. In general, if I get a note I don’t like and it truly doesn’t work, I’ll try to explain why but also give new suggestions instead of just disagreeing.

Patrick Aison (writer of Wunderkind, to be produced by J.J. Abrams): Good notes can take the thing you’re going for and bring it out more clearly. In general I like notes because sometimes I’m so close to what I’m working on I can’t see the obvious. Any bad note can sound OK out of context. That said, I got asked to make a hot female character hotter once, which was weird. I kind of wanted to say: “I can’t help you with your imagination.” In general I like to try to ignore bad notes to death.

Hollywonk: How do you decide which ideas are the right ones to pursue? How far down the road do you need to get before you know they may not be right?

Reid Carrolin (writer of Magic Mike): It’s generally a gut instinct.  You have to love something and believe you understand how to make it work.  You always realize mistakes you made later on, but if it takes a long time to realize that you never should have pursued the story in the first place, then you probably didn’t choose it for the right reasons.

Hollywonk: Do you have a “fantasy cast”/think of certain actors when you write?

Ted Melfi (writer and soon-to-be director of St. Vincent de Van Nuys, starring Bill Murray): I think it’s great to have someone in mind (actor wise) when one is writing a character.  This type of specificity is invaluable when you’re trying to find that unique and specific voice.  Many times I “fantasy cast” each character in the script … I then act it out in my mind, as I write the dialogue … sometimes I’ll even do this out loud – depending on where I am.  Talking to yourself in public is not as frowned upon these days, although it may never become vogue.  The only rub with “fantasy casting” is: if the character is sooooo specfic, in the way they talk … like say, if you were writing Christopher Walken’s tonality … then you may find readers locked into this actor (in their minds,) thus making it hard for them to imagine anyone else.  This can obviously be good or bad down the line.  But … at the end of the day … go for it … a specific voice and tonality is ALWAYS better than nondescript characterization.

Read More

Writer/Director Callie Khouri on Creating “Nashville” and Storytelling via TV vs. Film

Oscar-winner Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise) this year made the jump from feature films to series, creating Nashville for ABC. Not surprisingly, music is at the heart of the show, but it’s about much more, operating at the crossroads of art, business, technology, and politics, in a world where many of the old rules no longer seem to apply. There are a lot of players in this game, but the two at the core are singers at opposite ends of their careers: Connie Britton as Rayna James, the established star working to remain relevant, and Hayden Panettiere as Juliette Barnes, the hot newcomer reaching for respect — and grabbing hold of Rayna’s guitarist and former lover, Deacon Claybourne (Charles Esten).

Khouri took some time out from production to talk about the story, the setting, and the biggest differences between working in feature films vs. series. “It’s kind of like riding a horse,” she says. “You get on, they shoot a dart into its ass and you’re just heading out into the great unknown and it’s running as fast as it can. You’re learning to ride, and the whole thing is ‘just don’t fall off.’”

Some highlights:

What made you want to tell this particular story about these particular people?

It kills a lot of birds for me. Starting with the obvious, it talks about a time in our business where all the models are changing, the business has just gone through this drastic shift, and I think everybody is struggling to find their place and figure it out. It feels like there’s a changing of the guard in a way, and the old business models, to quote myself, “are no longer relevant.” That was a line I wrote in the pilot. It’s just a challenging time for people in all kinds of businesses obviously, but certainly this one, where the way it’s been working for however many years has suddenly become extinct almost. People aren’t making a living the way they used to.

There’s a few cities where stories about business changes could be told … why Nashville?

Read More